Divided loyalties, phenomenon of “super-officers”, overlapping reporting structures, personality clashes and squabbles over accounting officer roles have conflated to jam operations of the nascent government of President William Ruto.
In just a week, Ruto fired a Principal Secretary and moved several in his first reshuffle in just under five months of active work. Within the same week, a Principal Secretary quit on personal grounds and the President issued a terse, written warning against corruption among top officers.
In between, Cabinet Secretaries have spoken at cross purpose and PSs have called out CSs. Insider information also points to a government sagging under the weight of tansition politics; balancing between shaking off election hang-over and breaking out to implement manifesto before 2027 election mood sets in.
“When people win elections, they fight over how to share the spoils. When they lose, they blame each other. But the fights in Kenya Kwanza show Ruto seems not to be in control. He talks a lot but people seem to be doing things as they please and arm-twisting him into accepting things not recognised by any law, such as the office of the prime cabinet secretary’s wife,” Macharia Munene, a history professor said.
In Prof Munene’s analysis, the small matter of cobbling a winning coalition comes into sharp focus. While Ruto sits at the top as the President, he has to mind alot of things relating to those who enabled or bolstered his win. Top coalition leaders through their support “bought shares” into his government, bringing with them their cronies.
“Conflict is the nature of politics,” Munene added, saying: “Everyone came in with a different agenda. The challenge is to harmonise them into one.”
To his credit, President Ruto has restored discipline of weekly cabinet meetings during which issues are thrashed before they boil out of control, and reminders issued as to the agenda of government.
However, some pronouncements outside Cabinet betray the notion of a divided house, right from the top. While the President insists he’s serving all Kenyans, and giving opportunities to all, his Deputy Rigathi Gachagua has been reiterating his “government as a shareholding entity” concept to the chagrin of opposition.
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Besides the entitlement feel that comes with it, those who have redeemed their shares in government in form of appointments may also feel beholden to those who facilitated this. Pundits have speculated the firing of health PS Josephine Mburu had something to do with this shares arrangement.
“A good number of appointees do not feel free to operate because the shadow of their godfathers is spread over around them. In other cases even when there are no shadows, they are simply hesitant and imagining shadows where there are none,” a source revealed.
At the height of Kenya Kwanza’s “earthquake” euphoria last year, Ruto promised to cede 30 per cent of his government to National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula and Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi if they delivered 70 per cent of Western vote.
The structure of Ruto’s government also does him little favour. Wooing Mudavadi meant he had to elevate him above other CSs, while also not getting him too close to constitutionally enshrined powers of Deputy President.
In addition, Ruto has had to confront reality of rewarding key supporters, and inevitably revived the three-tiered architecture comprising CSs, PSs and Chief Administrative Secretaries (CASs) of his predecessor. Technically, the hierarchy places CASs above PSs and below CSs although their roles do not match their placement.
They were stopped by the courts, but have been swirling around their designated offices working but not quite working. Again, their sense of entitlent- most are politicians- has thrown a new layer of confusion in government workings.
Ruto is not the first President to deal with ego wars in government. While Uhuru’s CSs and PSs seemed to get along in public, the spat between former Health CS Cleopas Mailu and PS Nicholas Muraguri exposed the facade.
In 2017, Dr Mailu accused Dr Muraguri of insubordination, telling a parliamentary committee that the former Health PS, disregarded a directive that he leads negotiations with striking medics. Such episodes featured, too, during the late former President Mwai Kibaki’s tenure.
In his book For the Record, Defence Cabinet Secretary Aden Duale narrates the wars ministers, assistant ministers and permanent secretaries fought. Among those who were in conflict, Duale writes, include former assistant ministers Kabando wa Kabando and Wavinya Ndeti, who accused former Sports Minister Hellen Sambili of never consulting them in key ministry decisions, writing to then-Prime Minister Raila Odinga about the matter.
Duale also highlights the wrangling within the Water Ministry between then-Minister Charity Ngilu and Assistant Minister Mwangi Kiunjuri.
“There was also the case of assistant minister Ndiritu Muriithi, Kibaki’s nephew, who fell out with his boss Henry Kosgey in the Industrialisation docket over the choice of chief executive of the Kenya Bureau of Standards. Ndiritu co-opted then-permanent secretary Karanja Kibicho in the fight against the minister,” he adds, also highlighting his experience as assistant minister in the Livestock Ministry, accusing then-PS Kenneth Lusaka (Bungoma Governor) of frustrating his work by playing “partisan games.”